Every farmer &
whether he is raising corn or soybeans in Iowa or rye grass seed in Oregon &
knows that a bountiful crop starts with healthy soil. But maintaining soil tilth isn't an easy or straight-line task, while also keeping an eye on the bottom line.
That's why farmers from the mid-valley to as far away as Chile and New Zealand rely on Lynn Rogers, owner of Microbial Matrix Systems in Tangent, for advice on how they can organically enhance their soil.
Rogers grew up on a 30-acre family farm in Guam, and left the 30-mile-long island to study biochemistry at Oregon State University. After graduation she worked at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's biotech lab in Corvallis, the Oregon State University botany lab and for a private firm before striking out on her own in 2003.
"We help growers focus on biofertility," Rogers said. "We help farmers learn how to use biologicals to produce and enhance their existing soil fertility programs."
Biologicals come from two major sources: organic particles that provide food for plants and living micro-organisms such as bacteria, fungi, algae and earthworms.
In 1970, Bob Wilt helped his father plant blueberries on their family farm south of Corvallis. But in recent years, Wilt realized that the nearly 100 acres of berries weren't as productive and the bushes didn't appear as vigorous as they once were.
Wilt's farm is certified organic, so simply adding fertilizer and other chemicals isn't a viable option. After much research, he turned to Microbial Matrix Systems for help.
"It's not easy and you have to be willing to think outside of the box," Wilt said, about to enter the third season under Rogers' tutelage. "At this time, we've spent more money than with conventional methods, but we're repairing our soil. It's kind of like repairing your car. In another year or so, we'll have fewer input costs."
Wilt said Rogers has been "a good teacher ... very helpful."
He said the farm's blueberries already appear healthier and that testing has shown they are higher in nutrient content than samples of products he purchased from other sources. In fact, Wilt plans to market the blueberries based on their high quality.
Rogers works with more than 50 growers on about 8,000 acres, from Oregon to Iowa. She says her job is to help them "create a savings account in their soils."
The soil amendments can be added in liquid or granular forms, Rogers said. Some are seed coatings, others are added with fertilizers or tank mixed with fungicides. They can also be delivered through drip or overhead irrigation systems.
Biologicals and crops have a symbiotic relationship. The plants use the nutrients given off by the organisms and they in turn rely on the plants as a food resource.
"Healthy soils allow seeds to germinate more quickly, to have better roots and to increase the number of fine feeder roots, which also means increased surface area for the intake of nutrients," Rogers explained.
Biological inputs can cost from $3 to $10 per acre, but Rogers said tests have shown yields can increase as much as fivefold. Consulting fees range from $300 to $1,000 per month on average. She also teaches online Internet classes.
"Pretty much, biological inputs can improve just about anything that has a root," Rogers said. "Row crops seem to see the biggest return, but perennials also benefit."
Rogers said farms about 20 acres in size are ideal for her efforts. In addition to many hours in her Tangent laboratory, Rogers visits her clients' farms and enjoys "getting my hands dirty."
Expert offers solutions for soil